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Why Billy Beane's **** Will Work in the Playoffs

In Baseball Prospectus' latest book, "Baseball Between the Numbers", authors Nate Silver and Dayn Perry ask the question, "Why Doesn't Billy Beane's ** Work in the Playoffs?"

In my first AN diary, I summarize the conclusions of their article, and talk about how those conclusions should alter our perception of the 2006 Athletics.

Silver and Perry address Billy's famous "My ** doesn't work in the playoffs!" complaint through a new metric they've developed, PSP (Playoff Success Points).  These points give teams credit for winning playoff games and series-- the more wins, the more points.  They then regress PSPs for a large sample of playoff teams against various regular season statistics, in an attempt to discover what attributes help teams win playoff games.

In typical BP style, they make the chapter accessible to non-math types, at the expense of showing enough data and statistical tests (t-tests, F-statistics, etc...) to be considered "scientific."  I would therefore caution against taking their conclusions too seriously.

That being said, I'll proceed to take their conclusions at face value.  The three factors they identify as most correlated with playoff success are:

  1. Closer WXRL (expected wins added by the closer)
  2. Pitcher strikeout rate
  3. FRAA (fielding runs above average)
These results may not appear intuitive, but are backed by some common sense.  Closers pitch more innings, and often highly-leveraged innings, in the playoffs (see Rivera, Mariano).  Strikeout pitchers seem to fare better against good offenses than control pitchers (this finding was reported in Mind Game, another BP book).  Defense is important against good offenses, who put more balls in play (in absolute terms) than bad offenses.

So what does this mean for our 2006 A's?  Things are looking good, from where I sit.

In 2005:

  1. Huston Street was 11th in MLB in WXRL-- but with a leverage of only 60% of the typical closer.  If he had a typical closer leverage, he may have led all MLB in WXRL.
  2. The A's were #2 in the AL in K/9
  3. The A's were #1 in defensive efficieny (a reasonable proxy for FRAA)
For 2006,
  1. Street will close the whole season-- and could be among the best relievers in baseball.
  2. The A's switch Saarloos for Loiza, which probably will improve their K/9 enough to challenge the Angles for #1 in the AL.
  3. The A's added Milton Bradley, and subtracted no one, from their #1-rated defense.
The A's look poised for a great season, and have a good chance at making the playoffs.  But this time around, BB has built a team geared not just to make the playoffs, but to win it all.

As this is my first post, a little bio:  I grew up in the bay area both an A's and Giants fan, went to MIT, read Moneyball, and fell in love with the A's all over again.  I now work as a quant on Wall Street.

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